What Is the Difference Between Burglary and Larceny?

Learn just how different the two crimes of burglary and larceny really are.

By , Attorney

While burglary and larceny offenses both involve property, these two crimes tend to be more different than alike. Larceny offenses refer to an unlawful taking of property, whereas burglary offenses harm the safety of persons and property. Importantly, one crime need not involve the other.

This article will discuss and compare the definitions and penalties of burglary and larceny.

What Is Larceny?

Larceny is a type of theft. In some states, the two terms are interchangeable. In others, larceny is a subset of theft that applies to stealing tangible personal property (like a car, wallet, TV, or phone). (Other subsets of theft include embezzlement, theft of services, theft by deceit, and receiving stolen property.)

States define larceny as the taking of someone's property without permission and with the intent of permanently depriving the owner of its use or possession. Examples of larceny include shoplifting and auto theft.

Most states penalize larceny offenses by the value of the stolen item or the type of item. Larceny involving property worth less than $1,000 might be considered petty larceny or theft and a misdemeanor crime, subject to up to a maximum of one year in jail. As the value of the property increases, so do the penalties. Felony penalties for larceny (sometimes called grand larceny or theft) tend to range from one to 10 or 15 years of possible prison time.

What Is Burglary?

Burglary involves an unlawful entry into another's property with the intent to commit a crime. A common example is home invasion—breaking into someone's home intending to steal something.

While many pair burglary with acts of larceny or theft, burglary is much broader. Some states require the intended crime to be theft or a felony, but in others, any crime will do. For example, a person may commit burglary by unlawfully entering another's property intending to commit assault, rape, vandalism, destruction of property, or arson.

Most states penalize burglary offenses as felonies and often divide the offense into degrees. The least serious burglary offenses generally involve unoccupied structures, such as breaking into an abandoned office building or barn. The penalties increase as the risk of harm increases, such as breaking into an occupied home or committing a burglary while armed with a dangerous weapon. These more serious burglary offenses might carry penalties upwards of 40 or more years in prison.

Larceny vs. Burglary: How These Crimes Differ

Larceny and burglary differ in many respects.

Type of offense. Larceny is strictly a property crime. It occurs when a person takes something that doesn't belong to them. Burglary crimes are typically far more serious than larceny offenses, as they involve harm to the safety of persons and property rather than the loss of property.

Severity and penalties. The severity of these crimes is also reflected in their penalties. Larceny offenses start as misdemeanors and increase to felonies. Burglaries generally start as felonies, and penalties increase from there. A person could face decades in prison for burglaries involving weapons or breaking into a home.

Burglary sometimes involves larceny. While burglary offenses bring to mind a person breaking into a home to steal jewelry and electronics, the offense is much broader. Long gone are the days when the law defined burglary as breaking into a home at night with the intent to steal. Now, burglary covers unlawful entry into a number of structures, at any time of day, and with intent to commit almost any crime.

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